chapter 4

Visual Merchandising 101

One of the most creative and fun aspects of running a pop-up shop is managing the visual merchandising elements of the retail environment. That means everything from the window display a prospective customer first sees that draws them to your store, to the signage that directs them around, and the merchandising displays that catch their eye and ultimately influence them to purchase something.

With a clear sense of your pop-up shop goals, a location scouted and secured for the dates you have in mind, and an understanding of how your brand can be brought to life in the physical retail environment, you’re ready to start tackling the tough part, bringing your merchandise in and making it come to life right before you.

Before we dive into specific tips, let’s start with a checklist of items you’ll need to start assembling your visual merchandising tool kit.

Here’s a list of all the items you’ll need to get started:

  • Tape Measure
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Two-Sided Tape
  • Hammer and Nails
  • Utility Knife
  • Glue Gun and Hot Glue Sticks
  • Screwdriver and Screws
  • Pen, Pencil, Marker, and Notepad
  • Props (Any Non-Merchandise Items)

Once you’ve assembled your toolkit, you’re ready to get started. First, we’ll discuss the critical visual elements of the all-important window display.

Creating an Effective Window Display

When putting together your window display, its important to remember that its going to be one of the first things people see from across the street or while they’re walking by, which means it has to have the right amount of pull to intrigue them and get foot traffic through your down. But what makes for a good window display.

Here’s a few window display principles to keep in mind:

Start With a Story Based on a Theme

It's important to start with a story based on a theme, versus starting with a theme alone. The reason being that you could go crazy wanting to assemble all your orange and black products when it's halloween, all your red and green products when it's the holidays, or all your red and pink products when it's valentines and so on, without thinking about the bigger picture. Instead, what you want to do is to start with a story based on a theme and then use your storytelling prowess to turn it into something more sophisticated with the products and props you decide to use.

For example:

  • Instead of "Christmas", think "Nut Cracker"
  • Instead of "Halloween", think "Sleepy Hallow"
  • Instead of "Valentine", think "Cupid's Mischievousness"
  • Instead of "Thanksgiving," think "Dressing Up a Turkey"

Create a Focal Point

One of the things you'll want to do repeatedly while constructing your window display is taking a moment to step out onto the street and really give your window a good look. When you do so, you'll be able to determine a couple of really important factors, things like where your customer's eye-level is going to be, where the center line is, and whether you can incorporate elements like items suspended from the ceiling and so on.

It'll also give you a good idea of what that central or focal point should be, as in where do you want your prospective customers to look and how big should that focal point be so that even if your prospective customers are on the other side of the street, you still have a fighting chance to catch their attention. Also, this is the point where you can start thinking and experimenting with things like the arrangement of products given your focal point, and whether they'll consist of straight or curved lines, will they be a pyramid or circular shape, and so on.

Be Bold in Every Way

Our attention span is shrinking to about less than a millisecond with all the multi-tasking we do these days, sometimes the only thing we pay attention to even when walking down the street is our phone. In fact, you can bet that most people walking by your store will either be juggling a conversation with a friend, texting, looking at their step-tracking device, or walking their pets. That means that you've got to pull all the stops to make sure they stop on a dime and if you're lucky be so surprised and taken away by your display that they'll not only look, they'll want to take photos with their smartphone and share them with the world.

So, how can you be bold enough to demand their attention? Simple, be bold with colors, shapes, and props. That means you should really consider thinking outside cookie cutter colors like red and thinking more along the lines of in eye-catching fushsia – but exercise your best judgement and keep everything consistent with your brand and products of course.

Props are also a great way to think unconventionally, especially given the availability of all the different art materials readily available at your local art store. Think about cutting up foam boards, creating papier-maches, or anything else you think would be appropriate for your brand and store. Pretend like you're in elementary school and try to limit your hesitations or reservations, keeping in mind that the end display must not only be eye-catching but attractive and pleasing to the senses.

Keep It Simple

One of the biggest problems with constructing your window display is that, it's also pretty easy to get carried away and try to stuff every one of your product lines into the display. However, instead of drawing attention to your window, you'll end up creating the opposite effect. Don't try to do too much or you just end up with a busy, unfocused display.

Always, keep in mind your goal the principle of KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetheart), and the idea that ultimately you want to draw attention to your products and help customers quickly recognize the logic in your product arrangement and why certain products are grouped with others. That also means keeping your display clutter-free and being able to justify why each component of your display is included.

Balance Is Key

As mentioned throughout the points above, when you're creating a display, you're going to have a multitude of things to work with, from large objects and small objects, dark colors to light colors, lights and shadows, and so on.You're main task will be to balance the different elements you'll be deploying in order to create a pleasing aesthetic to the eye.

For example, typically you'll want to place larger, darker items near the bottom, with items that are lighter and more colorful at the top. What you don't want however is a situation in which you you place all the large items to one side and all the small ones on the other side, which will only give you an unbalanced window display.

As always, trust your judgement and really get a sense of what emotion your display is looking to evoke. With a balanced display, you're more likely to create feelings of happiness, excitement, and enjoyment, whereas an unbalanced display may signal anxiety or instability, even if on a subconscious level, it really does matter.

Pay Attention to Lighting

When it comes to smaller retailers wanting to create effective window displays, lighting can sometimes be an after-thought or something to think about if you've got the budget for "extra-costs," however, lighting can be a crucial component in getting people to stop.

It's recommended to not light displays directly from the top as doing so will only lead to unattractive shadows. Instead, you should consider having the lights be lightly to the sides and to the front of the display. This will bring out the 3D quality of the display and you can really have some fun when you have light coming at it from different angles.

Next up, we’re going to look at how to effectively create merchandising displays to have customers explore the entirety of your store with

Creating Effective Merchandising Displays

This is where we get into the meat of visual merchandising, the displays themselves. Again, we’ll be highlighting some general principles to keep in mind when creating merchandising displays for your pop-up shop.

Show, Don't Tell

As a merchant, it's hard not to tell that before people purchase something, they typically want an idea of what it will look and feel like. Now, there are plenty of ways to accommodate this need, and a lot of them revolve around how you set up your merchandise display. Creating a display that let's people identify with the product and enabling them to envision in their own home or on themselves allows you to help them get one step close to making the purchase.

For example, the sales floor in furniture stores are set-up with displays that make it easy for people to envision how the same products could be set-up in their own homes, or kitchenware stores having their merchandize displayed like how it might look in a given kitchen and so on.

Another prominent way apparel retailers do this is by creating policies that require their sales staff to wear the clothing they're selling. And of course, the most tried and true example of this would be the mannequin, who you could style according to your latest releases and style.  

Group Like With Like

Grouping like products with like products gives your customers additional reasons to buy more items from you, but it also has a more utilitarian reasoning behind it, namely that it saves them time from looking around and trying to mix and match things.

You can also think of it as creating categories, but you don’t need to limit your creativity there, you can also create “groupings” within categories.

That means having merchandise that might be the same color, price, size, or type together.  

The Rule of Three

In creating displays, most visual merchandisers will often defer to the rule of three. The rule suggests that when creating a display, it's a sound idea to try and work in sets of three. For example, if you were arranging things by height, you’d have items that were short, medium, and tall.

You might be wondering what the reasoning behind this is, and it's something you can observe for yourself. Our eyes are most likely to keep moving and looking around when we’re looking at something asymmetrical, because as you might have found, when we see some symmetrical or balanced our eyes tend to stop dead in their tracks.

Retail Signage 101

Before we dive into the different types of signs that you’ll want to look into for your pop-up shop, let’s start with some retail signage best practices that apply across the first. Here we go:

  • Be specific:  A customized sign can give you just the right message in just the right place, known as narrowcasting. When designing a sign, include specific details, such as location-specific instructions and relevant product information.
  • Keep it simple: Your sign’s message needs to be clear, yet one with too much information is often ignored. Use the five-second rule which states that if you can convey the main themes of the sign in less than five seconds, you pass. If it takes longer, shorten your message or use a series of signs.
  • Write in headline text: This should help you be concise and simple all at once. Understand the first principle of print journalism: the punch line matters. Can you simplify your text? Can you take out prepositions and extra words? Effective custom signs use a message hierarchy: headline, explanatory text, and finally, a call to action.
  • Make a call to action: Signs are advertisements, and as any good advertiser knows, you need to get the customer to do something; that’s the call to action. An effective sign needs to have a simple goal.

Alright, now let’s look into all the different types of signage that you’ll want to take care of when it comes to your pop-up shop.

Outdoor Signage

Outdoor signage is arguably the most important kind in physical retail because it’s what gets customers in the door, the largest hurdle to beginning a relationship. Exterior signage is the first impression customers have of your business.

These signs need to do more than simply announce who you are, they need to draw in customers and make them want something from you. Effective signage may encourage people who have passed your store many times before to finally give it a chance.

Outdoor signage can take the form of sidewalk signs, entrance signs, awnings, or window signs. Place signage where it is visible to as much walk-by and drive-by traffic as possible. Outdoor signage in particular should be branded effectively to draw the customer in and help to convey the experience that they can expect inside the establishment.

Informational Signage

Informational signage may also be known as departmental, directional, organizational, or wayfinding signage. These signs help the customer navigate your space more easily. The easier it is for a customer to find what they came in for, the more likely they are to rely on that convenience in the future.

Directional signage is self-explanatory: it tells customers where to go. All types of informational signage need to be concise and easy to read so that clients can understand the message with just a split-second glance. Large, bold fonts in highly-visible color schemes best accomplish this goal.

Once you start putting up informational signage, it becomes clear to you if your store is arranged in an orderly fashion with some rhyme or reason behind decision-making. Not only does systematicity benefit your customers, but it also makes your internal structure more organized.

Persuasive Signage

Persuasive signage influences consumer behavior through convincing language or attractive imagery. These signs can advertise a particular product or promotion. Persuasive signs or displays can influence customer flow and improve interactivity with otherwise unnoticed products. Signs that showcase a particular type of product offer an opportunity for retailers to communicate specific details of new, seasonal, or featured items.

Using persuasive signage allows products or brands to more effectively communicate with customers. These displays can turn an otherwise ordinary product into a popular “hidden gem.” Effective persuasive messaging can also create a higher perceived value for products, increase brand awareness and improve retail sales.

Remember: While persuasive sales signs should be eye-catching and witty, they are not the main attraction. The most effective signs draw the customers to the product.

Putting It All Together

Hopefully, by now, you have a strong understanding of the fundamentals of visual merchandising and already have ideas for how you can start applying what you learned to creating your very own pop-up shop. Don’t be afraid to experiment and trust your gut with some of your creative decision-making as long as you get into the mind-set and habit of trying something out, testing and measuring it, and using the feedback to adjust as necessary.  

Next Chapter

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5. Marketing Your Pop-Up Shop Pt. 1

10 min

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